In a landmark ruling addressing the legality of ICE’s signature deportation program, Secure Communities, a federal judge issued a permanent injunction blocking the agency from issuing arrest requests based solely on error-ridden electronic databases.
The ruling also enjoins ICE from issuing these requests, known as detainers, to states that have not expressly authorized their local law enforcement agencies to make arrests for deportation purposes in state law.
According to ICE, the Secure Communities program is responsible for 70% of all ICE arrests. A significant portion of those arrests stem from detainers issued solely on the basis of unreliable electronic databases. ICE officers, sitting behind computer screens, review the results of automated databases searches on every person booked into police custody anywhere in the country.
Based on nothing more than databases, ICE has subjected more than 2 million people to these unconstitutional arrests since the inception of the program in 2008.
Plaintiffs argued that the detainers — issued with a click of a button by agents who neither spoke to the individuals nor even reviewed their immigration files — were a violation of the fourth amendment of the U.S. Constitution that protects against “unreasonable searches and seizures.”
The court found the databases ICE relies upon to be rife with “serious errors.” “The result, of course,” the ruling issued by U.S. District Court Judge André Birotte Jr. stated, “is that many U.S. citizens become exposed to possible false arrest when ICE relies solely on deficient databases.” Numerous non-citizens legally in the U.S. were also wrongfully detained because of ICE’s reliance on the error-ridden databases.
The class-action case, Gonzalez v. ICE, has been making its way through the courts since 2013. The plaintiffs were represented in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles by the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Southern California (ACLU SoCal), the National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON), the National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC), and the law firm Kaye, McLane, Bednarski + Litt LLP.
The decision applies to all ICE detainers issued out of the Central District of California, including to those issued by ICE’s Pacific Enforcement Response Center (PERC) in Laguna Niguel. The PERC issues detainers 24-hours a day within California and after-hours to 41 other states. The ruling means that ICE may not issue any detainer request from the PERC to any state that does not expressly authorize local law enforcement to make immigration arrests in state law and it may not issue a detainer without something more than database information to support a probable cause determination.
“This decision is a major indictment of ICE’s dragnet deportation program, which for more than a decade has subjected citizens and non-citizens to needless unconstitutional arrests at the mere click of a button,” said Jennie Pasquarella, senior staff attorney and director of immigrants’ rights for the ACLU SoCal. “Reams of evidence presented at trial demonstrated ICE’s complete disregard for the people impacted by its actions and its concern only with using an automated system to arrest record numbers of people.”
The decision in the non-jury trial was issued by the court on September 27.
The case was named for plaintiff Gerardo Gonzalez, who was detained by the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department based on a request issued by ICE in 2012. But Gonzalez was a natural born U.S. citizen, born in Pacoima, California.
“By defending themselves, immigrants have once again defended bedrock constitutional rights for everyone,” said Pablo Alvarado, a director of NDLON. “This victory is a huge boost for cities and states throughout the country who have known for awhile that the best way to truly secure communities is to kick ICE out of our local police and sheriff departments. We will continue to organize in support of this goal.”
The judge, in his order, enjoined ICE from issuing detainers “based solely on database searches and rely upon information from sources that lack sufficient indicia of reliability.”
“For over a decade now ICE has been systematically violating the Fourth Amendment rights of hundreds of thousands of individuals each year through its detainers,” said Ruben Loyo, senior litigation attorney at the NIJC. “This ruling should be yet another reminder to law enforcement that if you comply with detainers you too will be held liable.”
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